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article imageOp-Ed: Britain would go to war over Gibraltar? You’re kidding?

By Paul Wallis     Apr 3, 2017 in World
Gibraltar - A senior Tory, Michael Howard, a former party leader, has made the equation between Gibraltar, a major bone of contention with EU member Spain, and the Falkland Islands war of the 1980s. It’s hard to tell if this is fact or fiction.
One undisputed fact is that Spain does have the right to negotiate with Britain over Gibraltar as a result of Brexit. Spain has multiple issues with its former territory, taken over by Britain 300 years ago. Not least of these issues is smuggling through Gibraltar, as well as the territorial fact of having another nation parked on the island.
To really understand this new low in U.K.-EU relations after Brexit, the mere fact that a senior, credible member of a government party is talking war is a good start. A European war belongs to last century, not this century. What, you and the world may ask, is so important about Gibraltar that it’s worth a war?
The people of Gibraltar voted almost overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, too. They presumably weren’t thinking of a war, either. In the U.K., Brexit scraped through, and is still highly contentious. Brexit is very unpopular in Scotland, which is pushing for another independence vote after the referendum, and the English vote was at best marginal.
The other tiny little issue is that a war between the UK and Spain would be a war between NATO partners. Whose side would NATO be on? Either, or neither?
To explain the rather tenuous logic:
1. Britain regards Gibraltar as sovereign territory. It’s been a lynch pin of British continental strategy since the Napoleonic wars. It was a critical lifeline in World War 2, when the Mediterranean was a scene of years of maritime fighting.
2. Sovereign territory means basically “a physical part of the nation”. The Falkland Islands are in this bracket, not actually part of the U.K., but administered by the U.K. Unlike the Falklands, however, Spain hasn’t actually invaded Gibraltar, and could easily have done so at any time in the last 80 years.
3. According to basic theory, you don’t give away bits of the nation. The fact that Brexit looks like it will dismantle 500 years’ worth of unity if Scotland leaves, of course, isn’t part of the theory.
4. The U.K. conservatives have always been pro-Empire, pro-nationalist, and in keeping with Britain’s pre-EU entry, anti-Europe. There’s not the beginnings of any alternative view in this mindset.
So far, so appalling. The other side of this not very valuable coin is that Europe isn’t exactly thrilled with Brexit. There’s not likely to be much sympathy from the European heavyweights for any case the U.K. makes regarding Gibraltar.
The U.K. has effectively sabotaged its own arguments to support any case for retaining Gibraltar with Brexit. Spain has veto powers, and Gibraltar is quite specifically part of the Brexit negotiations.
The war element has an aspect of farce, as well as tragedy if anyone gets killed in this turgid situation. Even allowing for the undoubted competence of the Royal Navy, RAF and British army, these are not the days of the Armada. The current U.K. government’s case is hardly of the intellectual or moral stature of Queen Elizabeth the First, either. Britain is not under any sort of actual or implied attack, and nobody’s trying to assassinate Queen Elizabeth the Second.
Even Sir Francis Drake would think twice about making a massive commitment to holding a stationary target for the sake of what could only be a nasty, antagonistic fight with highly debatable values for the U.K. Tactically, it’s a messy proposition, even for experts. Strategically, it makes no sense at all. This is not 1799 or 1941. It’s 2017. Gibraltar is NOT what it was back then, nor has anybody ever suggested it is, in the last 60 years.
The never-sufficiently-damned British “muddling through” has a bad habit of being a synonym for “whatever half-witted thing we think of on the spur of the moment”. The consequences of any conflict with Spain could be worse than a war.
The fore and aftertaste of a war or even the suggestion of a war could include EU trade sanctions against Britain, and genuine hostility instead of genuine annoyance. Europe has clearly had enough of the U.K.’s obscure logic and vague statements.
The present U.K. government’s determined waddle to national oblivion has impressed nobody but a few political conservatives, usually the senile or actively insane extreme right wingers. The rest of the world is fairly convinced that Brexit is stupidity incarnate. A war with Spain over Gibraltar would be proof positive.
The theory of Gibraltar’s “consent” to cede sovereignty is simply bizarre. To fight a war against all rational criteria and against the already clear express wishes of the people of Gibraltar makes no sense at all. Most people in the U.K. go on holiday in Spain at some time. It'd be like turning the local day care centre in to a war zone. Is the word “sovereignty” so much more important than the wishes of just about everyone?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Brexit, Gibraltar sovereignty, Spain UK dispute over Gibraltar, EU Brexit negotiations, UK war with Spain over Gibraltar
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